On a typical rainy September day in Pingyao we visit the wedding of Ma Zhiai (bride) and Wu Huabing (groom).
In the morning the groom visited the bride’s home to meet her relatives, prepare for the wedding and have lunch with the guests. When we arrive, workers are disassembling inflatable arches on the street that marked the walking route of the wedding couple to the bride’s home.
A few hundred meters further to the east, the groom’s home is being prepared for the second part of the wedding day. A big inflatable gate with golden elephants on both sides marks the entrance to the street of the groom’s home. In the courtyard of the house a stage has been setup where local artists sing festive songs. Because of the heavy rain, there is no audience in front of the stage; everybody stays inside the house.
When the couple enters the house, the bride is wearing a festive red wedding dress and the groom a dark suit with a pink tie. Under the groom’s suit collar there is a paper with imitation gold ingots and coins, folded to the outside in the shape of a little crown. It is an old tradition, but when asked, the elderly people do not know exactly why they do this, they just know that in order to ward off evil they have to do this.
At this point all of the groom’s family elders have to hide, not to see the bride, because the bride has to recognize every relative. The groom went through a similar test in the morning at the bride’s home. After the bride and groom have finished their made up they enter the lobby of the main building where two straight-backed chairs are setup for a tribute. Behind the chairs are two men sitting behind a table. They take care of collecting and administering the (financial) gifts to the wedding couple.
The bride and groom are standing in front of the chairs. Family of the groom will appear one by one, or if married, couple by couple. The groom introduces the family by the type of kin (e.g. “cousin”) and the bride will greet them with their names. Gifts are received as plain cash or as cash in red envelopes. If relatives are older, the bride and groom should also bow while addressing them. To spite the new wife, some older family members will let the couple wait a while before showing up. The process is quite lengthy and takes almost an hour.
As the last family members to pay respect to, the groom’s parents appear. The father must be dressed as a traditional character, such as the Monkey King or a pig. His relatives will dress him up and will paint his face in a clown’s make-up. The outfit is further decorated with a big red flower and a banana with two bell peppers symbolize his male productive organs. This whole process is called “pa hui” (*) and is meant to make the father of the groom realize that the bride is not just a girl he could fall in love with anymore, but that he should know that she is his daughter now. At the same time, the way the father is dressed and made-up “ugly” should prevent the bride feeling attracted to him on this wedding day. The mother of the groom also gets some make-up, but this is for fun and has no traditional meaning.
After the meeting with the groom’s parents, the ceremony has ended. The couple and the guests will go to a restaurant for a festive dinner and after that the bride and groom will be sent to their own room in the house of the groom’s parents.
Text: Xie Bing
(*) 扒灰, “pa hui”, literally means “incest between father-in-law and daughter-in-law”